Ofsted inspectors have warned that there is “risk” to an improving service because of the number of agency social workers.
In a monitoring inspection of Lancashire’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services, inspectors noted improvements to the council’s response to children in need of help and protection. However, it warned that the streamlined single point of access and Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) were both staffed in the majority by agency workers.
“The local authority plans to establish the current model as a permanent arrangement, but funding for this has not yet been agreed by the council,” Ofsted said
“Although many agency staff have been in the service for some time, and some want to stay, some risk remains regarding the future stability and sustainability of this service.”
Almost two-thirds (63%) of social workers and managers in the MASH and streamlined single point of access teams were agency at the time of the inspection last month. The management structure remained “unclear and is currently reliant on additional temporary capacity,” inspectors found.
Despite the lack of stability, social workers in the MASH had supervision regularly, “even when there are frequent changes in line manager arrangements”.
“Managers appropriately guide social workers to gather further information to inform decision making,” the report said.
“This includes review of case files, gathering information from partner agencies and making contact with parents or carers. These activities result in a timely and effective response to presenting concerns for most children, and their cases are allocated swiftly for support from social work teams or from early help services,” it said.
But the inspection found little evidence to show supervision was used to develop practice or drive performance, adding that the council’s practice model had not been well developed enough to result in consistently good practice.
County councillor Susie Charles, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “I’m pleased that inspectors feel we are making good progress in improving our children’s services following this latest monitoring inspection.
“They’ve highlighted several areas we’ve improved, including how we handle initial enquiries, improved management oversight of cases and better information sharing.
“We’ve also made good progress in reducing the amount of agency staff we use, so that now only 9% of the children’s services team is made up of agency workers, the lowest this figure has ever been. We aim to reduce this figure to 5% in the future.
“There is still work to do and we’re working very hard to make further improvements before the service is next inspected.”